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How to Use Nonviolent Communication

Nonviolent communication is a powerful tool you can use to improve your communication effectiveness.

Do you ever find yourself misunderstood in a disagreement? What do you think would happen if you and your partner actually felt closer after a disagreement, instead of further apart?

Most relationships would benefit from implementing nonviolent communication (NVC) into their relationship. NVC is a communication tool that creates empathy and understanding between you and your partner.

Nonviolent communication is based on the fundamental principle that humans have needs, and acknowledging those human needs can create a positive, more cooperative space.

Four Components Nonviolent Communication

#1 Observation

First, express your observation of the situation. Observations should be purely factual recounts, with no judgment involved. Communicating an observation gives the other person an opportunity to understand your perspective. Express what you saw or heard that triggered your emotions. Separate your initial judgment from your observation! Focusing on facts only helps start the conversation in a way the other person is less likely to get defensive.

#2 Feelings

Next, name the way that observation makes you feel. Expressing your feelings and emotions may be difficult, but it’s necessary to describe and communicate how you feel. This step allows you to take responsibility for your feelings, acknowledging that others are not responsible for your feelings or what caused you to feel that way.

When someone names an emotion, validate their emotion without shaming or preventing them from feeling that way. Examples of feelings include sad, angry, afraid, and surprised. Here’s a list of feelings you can use to help you identify what you’re feeling.

#3 Needs

Identifying needs is a vital and often overlooked aspect of effective communication. Unmet needs are usually at the center of most conflict. Your feelings of anger or frustration may come up because of unmet needs, such as a need for love, compassion, or acceptance. After you name your feelings, identify what you need in order to feel better. What underlying desire do you want to be met? Here’s a list of needs you can use to help you identify your needs.

  • Although it may be difficult, try communicating your needs as often as possible instead of expecting the other party to assume what your needs are.
  • When communicating your needs, try using “I” statements. Using “I” statements helps make the discussion less confrontational, and focuses on what you need.
  • Work with your partner towards fulfilling your needs, but also consider how you can meet your own needs.

#4 Requests

To resolve the conflict, make an explicit request or suggest a resolution. It’s important to name your emotions and needs before making a request! Without communicating the context of how you feel and what you need, your request might sound like a demand.

  • Communicate your request clearly rather than dropping hints.
  • Remember, a request is different from a demand. Be ready to leave room for alternatives or compromise.
  • Frame your request in a positive way. Instead of saying, “I would like you to spend less time on your phone,” you could suggest, “I would like to spend more undistracted time together when we’re at home.”

The key to nonviolent communication is to practice empathy as you listen to someone else’s feelings and needs. Listen deeply and curiously, with the intent to honor the needs of the other person.

Essentially, listen to understand rather than listen to respond. When you listen to your partner with the goal of understanding their perspective, your partner will feel understood and more comfortable to hear your perspective. You can use this technique with yourself, too.

Practicing nonviolent communication regularly can be a transformative step to a thriving relationship.

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